Rory Costelloe, Executive Director, Villawood Prop


Why does Villawood invest in community?

Villawood recognise we must invest in ‘creating community’ if we are going to be successful; essentially we consider it to be part of our long-term branding. You can develop land to simply make a profit, or you can invest in creating a healthy, vibrant community. We’ve found that in doing this a lot of our sales are from repeat purchasers, because people just understand what we are going to deliver and trust our brand.

Our research shows that 25% of the new residents in our Alamanda Estate in Point Cook came from the Point Cook area, 50% from the greater Wyndham area, and 25% from the Eastern suburbs, however they obviously don’t know who their neighbours are going to be, so it’s our job to start to create their community. Put simply, our mantra and job is to, “make friends, build a community and be proud to call it home.”

Is there a commercial benefit to investing in community infrastructure?

In some ways given we’re not a listed company we don’t face the same pressures to return as much profit to start with. However I believe that for every dollar you spend on community infrastructure, you get two dollars back. This may not get you more money per lot but it does translate into faster sales because people know and trust your brand and want to live there.

How important is it to have an early, clear and strong vision from the outset?

A clear vision for a new community is essential and must be driven. Ultimately, if the owner of the shop doesn’t believe in it, it won’t work. A lot of the time urban designers, planners and engineers believe they are going to create really good places, but unless there’s good ownership it just goes in circles. Delivering community and sustainable design takes a lot of time and energy to create, so you must believe in it and champion its delivery.

Do you identify champions to carry and drive the vision you have created?

You must have champions, if there’s not someone in the organisation willing or capable of championing and driving a particular vision then it’s not going to happen. Community and sustainable design takes a lot of time, money and effort to create so you must believe it’s going to give a payback if you invest in it.

What are the key elements to creating a vibrant community?

The key element is creating a space where people can get together and make friends. We’re basically decentralizing the council model of making bigger centralised facilities, and instead creating a smaller community bonding point. We can provide all the appealing elements like a pool, gym, tennis courts, but my primary objective is to create a parent’s place. That’s the centre piece – where the parents can mingle and relax whilst being able to keep an eye on what their kids are up to.

We design our parks with the same thinking…all around a central point where the barbecue shelter is in sight of the junior kids’ playground, senior kids’ playground, kick-about area and bicycle paths in between.

We prioritise selling to owner-occupiers over investors. The old adage of `you get better service when the person that owns the store runs the store’ applies here. Streets with a majority of owner occupiers have more cared for streetscapes and are safer neighbourhoods.

Do you focus on building healthy communities? Is there a connection between ‘place’ and a community’s health and wellbeing?

My philosophy is ‘what’s the biggest danger in life; Obesity and dying from diabetes or the occasional risk of a broken arm? I’m very much an anti-risk management person. We built a big hill at Alamanda that the kids run up and down, with slides that they go down which keeps them running up and down getting exercise.

We have found a strong correlation between physical health and social connections at Alamanda. 80 percent of residents are owner-occupiers which has correlated with 95% of the gym and Club Alamanda members also being owner-occupiers. Having a pool, gym, cafe, tennis courts, parents lounge and little playground has seen this facility become the community bonding and creation agent.

How are you adapting to changing housing and lifestyle demands?

We experimented with a retirement village at Alamanda in Point Cook. Retirement communities have their own smaller facilities and private spaces but still like to be in touch with the community. We created the $6 million dollar Alamanda Community Centre so it seemed natural to start adding retirement living around it and keeping them in touch with the rest of the community. In the end it sold so quickly we took over the space that was going to be the display village.

Retirees used to want to slow right down, but these days 25 to 40 percent of them still wish to be independent and active, and are physically capable of doing so. Alamanda offers them an active place to live like a normal community except they have quite neighbours. We still provide the panic and medical button which is the easy stuff, but importantly they’ve got the café, gym and community centre next door.

How do you collect feedback and communicate with your community members?

Initially we invested in a dedicated community intranet but realised everyone was still using standard social media channels to communicate. So we just use Facebook groups, look at blogs and observe what’s going on. You can see the traffic, people chatting and meeting each other. If there’s an issue they’ll jump online, let us know and we’ll fix it.

Do you have strategies to seed community life and foster social connections?

We have community days connecting people who don’t know each other but may have bought a house in the same street. This allows people to start talking with each other and form really good friendships through the process. From there whenever we have community functions these people turn up together which is just great.

This is a process that you must be committed too; you can’t just build the buildings, you need programed events and activities. We provide functions at least once a month and have community rooms everyone can come down and use. We have an Easter egg hunt and Christmas party in between all the other community days.

Who organises and manages your community events and activities?

There’s really two main roles, we have an events manager who’s part of our marketing team and the development manager or body corporate manager. We believe the development manager must be a member of the committee for the life of the project. You need to give people really good training, instilling our mantra so they see the positon as having a real responsibility to create a new community.

As land developers how do you maintain your vision through the building process and deliver on the key elements such as the mixed use village centre?

As a land developer we don’t usually build things unless it is for demonstration, so we were always looking for the right person to develop the mixed use village centre at the top of Alamanda Estate, which is what you can now see as Soho Village.  Importantly we were part of the visioning process for that part of the development from start to finish and really created that vision over three years through the rezoning process.

The partnership with MASBUILD to deliver the village centre was very successful, and we were happy selling him the land as he was really keen on creating something different. Although we maintained design control, he kept the basic footprint and delivered what the original vision was.

(refer to the Soho Village case  study on page xx for further information)

If you could change one thing about the way we currently create communities what would it be?

I would like to see a change in council’s views towards new ideas and allow for more creative solutions. There are a lot of things we want try to explore but are often stopped by council’s primary focus on risk management and maintenance costs. My philosophy is ‘what’s the biggest danger in life?’ Obesity and dying from diabetes or the occasional risk of a broken arm?


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